By Ape Biggles
When I was twelve years old, I was sitting behind my mom in my parents’ Cutlass Ciera on a delicious summer day, my father driving, the three of us cruising down our semi-country road towards home. My window was down and the wind was blowing in my face. Long and straight and paved in tarmac, that road is a portion of the border separating the city of St. Catharines from the farm town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The de facto border in that area is the Welland Canal, our farm sitting within the half-kilometer or so of canal property bordering its north shore, but I still always enjoyed the idea that when I crossed the street from my house, I was leaving the city I lived in. My parents called our ten acre plot of land a hobby farm, but in the summers it was early to rise for my mom to plant, hoe or pick one of the various fruits or vegetables we grew over the years. My dad would work into the night after returning from a day of laying bricks, the tractor lights disappearing and returning as he drove up and down the field spraying the insecticides and pesticides that the government would later say require ventilated protective body suits. My earliest memories take me along rows and rows of grapes, uncles and aunts- or zios and zias as I called them- helped with the pruning or harvesting, still dressed in remnants of the old country with kerchiefs covering their heads. I would ride along on the back of the flat-top trailer hitched to the tractor, legs dangling, feet soaring over and through the wild grass. My dad stopping at the end of rows and me helping to collect the full bushels of freshly picked grapes and dropping off empty ones.
My love for apricots is rooted in the lone apricot tree that grew right in the middle of one of the grape rows. I’d often scale the horizontal wires that supported the grape vines and pluck one of the small, sun-hued fruits straight from the tree. The perfect apricot never spews juice over your chin. You can more often than not pry it into halves by forcing it apart with your thumbs to remove the nestled, rather than embedded, pit before popping each half into your mouth. Its consistency is between fresh and dried fruit. Eating one, straddling one of the branches of its tree, surveying the tops of the rows and rows of grapevines as if my own domain, is the closest I have come to an experience of royalty.
Over the years, rows of grapes gave way to acres of tomatoes that then, in an unconventional foray for the fruit belt of Ontario, gave way to asparagus. By the time the planted asparagus crowns completed their three year maturation period, my fellow grade sixers and I were old enough to be hired by my parents to operate the pedal-steered picking tractor, custom built in Simcoe, true asparagus country. It sat low enough to the ground that the person in the driver’s seat could bend over and cut asparagus spears out of the ground with a knife and drop them into the basket beside him as the small Honda engine moved it slowly over the row. Two wings folded down with a seat on each, to hover the passengers over the adjacent rows with their own harvesting basket beside them.
It was during one of our after-school shifts that I was fired by my dad for having an asparagus fight with my friends, trying to hit each other with a well-aimed spear when we were supposed to be following behind the machine, knife in hand, cutting the asparagus that was missed. I was with all of my friends back in our driveway after our shift, when he looked at me with disappointment and told me I was let go. There have not been a lot of those moments in my life, my parents being disappointed in me. I recall my dad spanking me once, though why I can’t recall, and my mom washed my mouth out with soap another time, though I don’t remember what I said to deserve it. There was another incident that was of great distress for my dad. When I was a teenager he found a cigar in his Safari van that I used to drive to school. He felt that the obvious hurt he displayed that I should smoke anything was punishment enough. Decades later he asked me to rewrite the letter of apology I’d given him at the time because he regretted not keeping it, the value of the letter ending up exceeding the disappointment in the action that sired it.
My memory of these moral shortfalls exist in my mind rather than my heart. My parents’ judgements rarely struck at my conscience, for I generally interpret my intentions as pure. No matter what I do, no matter how ruthless or inconsiderate I appear to be, I’ve painted my actions with an altruistic brush and proved to myself by a direct chain of arguments that should others just think differently or if circumstances had transpired in a different way, then my good motives would be obvious. Much more frequently than not, in fact, reality has eventually aligned with my magnanimous projects, and I would be deemed by all that they touched to be more generous and positively influential than most people. In this way, the sum of my acts taken holistically, just as I took them individually, have been redeemed by the ultimate results despite the hiccups and casualties along the way. Others may disagree with me. No, others will disagree with me. Like the thief that continues to press his luck with greater and greater capers, they say my luck will run out. But that is a debate that can’t be decided until I am ushered through death’s door and the totality of my actions are finished and the effects can be judged.
Even so, there were no thoughts of right or wrong in the back seat of the Ciera, at least not on that particular day driving down our borderline. Sitting behind my mother, with my window down and the wind pushing against my face and through my hair, the air just disappeared. The windows stayed down and the car continued to move at the same speed and I hadn’t changed the position of my head. There was no change to the physical circumstances that should have stopped the wind from pouring though the car window. The wind just ceased blowing. No, wait, I can’t say for certain that it stopped. What I mean to say is that for a moment the sensations on my face and hair that I had previously attributed to the wind turned into a sensation with no cause. Again, that is not quite right. The necessity of cause and effect did not disappear from my reality, the cause of the sensation I was feeling on my face was no longer the wind itself. The wind may or may not have been there in that moment. The cause of the sensation was my body itself, while the sensations remained identical. Maybe there was an electrical charge in the air, or my thoughts at the time were concentrated in just the right way in a quadrant of my brain, or perhaps the sun was just at the right angle and I in precisely the right location. How or why this moment happened will always be conjecture until I am able to replicate the experience consistently, and I have yet to repeat it even once in the decades since. But the reality of the experience itself shook the foundations of my understanding of life. For, if the physical sensation of the wind on my face can be reinterpreted by my mind as originating in my body itself, could not my body create the sensation of the wind on my face independent of it actually blowing? And if my body can do that, doesn’t that put in the same light every sensation I have in my life? The bath water cooling down against my skin, the pain of a hard run, the sorrow over lost loves. What if I could see only what I willed, my eyes self-stimulating its cones and rods to paint the world in my own image? This is not a call to mind over matter, subordinating the latter to the former. Instead, the experience suggested to me that neither might have precedence over the other, and it has been a touchstone in my life when reality feels oppressive or my perception of it fills me with anxiety. I’ve since coined this touchstone, Breeze Face.
I can’t say my actions from that moment have been different than what I would have done if it never happened. I don’t recall if my attitude of benevolence towards my parents’ disappointments in me preceded it or if my memories of those moments were reinterpreted upon the experience. It may not even matter. That moment might just be the physical representation of how I already interpreted the world. That is why it is impossible to write a manual for life that can be passed on to each generation. Every life is unique and personal, and the circumstances into which they are born are wholly separate and singular. There is no way of conducting any sort of controlled experiment to assess the results of the same life being lived differently. Even then, a person’s experience is a black box. If I existed in two parallel timelines, in fact, each world identical to the other but my motivations and intentions diametrically opposed, it is conceivable that I could execute identical actions resulting in the same physical outcomes though my perception of those actions and outcomes would be different. On what proof in such a circumstance of reality can a guide to life be written? There is a metaphor for this, when you consider a murder trial. The prosecution and the defense apply opposing intentions and motivations to the same actions of an accused to prove or disprove motive. They each paint a different person, outwardly identical in every way barring their intentions and unseen actions. The best that has been agreed on generally across multiple religions is to treat others as you would like to be treated yourself, sometimes known as the Golden Rule. Still, that makes a huge presupposition about how people want to be treated. Ask any sadist.
In my later years, but still a long time ago, I described the difference between my mom and dad as part of the material I’d written when asked to host a fundraiser for the campus radio station I participated in. I said my mom was spiritual and my dad was practical, and to illustrate these traits, I recited the life lessons each had given me. My mom would often tell me to let the universe know what I wanted and then let it go. My dad, more than once, even in the thick of hot summer days, would remind me never to walk on ice with my hands in my pocket. As the constant background to my life and first example of a life manual, I’ve often thought that this dichotomy between my parents placed me somewhere in the middle between spiritualism and practicality and that I’ve since infused everything I touch with an equal mixture of reality and perception. In this sense, the experience of the Breeze Face may epitomize the experience of the world I had already built. Maybe the lesson it teaches me is not to show me what the nature of reality really is, but rather what the nature of my reality really is. It may be that one’s Breeze Face experience is unique to their own origin story. It might be realized in the lick of an ice cream cone or in the intimate stroking of another’s back. In the moment, you might not place the experience in the nexus between sensation and perception, but somewhere on either side where your life’s manual has taught you is the royal seat of reality. The Breeze Face moment, then, lies not in the actual circumstances of the experience but in its pure returning to your personal calibration to how you organize the world. It is the self-evidence of your truth. Taken this way, it can be a tool in your life’s manual along with the Golden Rule, at once respecting the existence of others and their individual calibration to our shared reality.
I don’t know where we were coming from or what I did when we got out of the car after that Breeze Face moment. Those details have gone to wherever forgotten experiences go. They are not important for the Breeze Face. I think the Breeze Face could have happened years earlier or later or never and I would be no different or have acted in any other way. Oh, who can tell, really? It has shown me what my heart already knew, that for me, life exists on the borderline, in the moment when the tractor headlights are just about to come or go. That all one can do is try to listen to one’s instincts and follow their lead. If you’ve failed to do that, you may need to recalibrate yourself and get back on the path. Those times of readjustment will probably disrupt the lives of others who could only have assumed that how you were living up until that point aligned with your life’s manual. If you don’t like to be the cause of that kind of disruption, then try to stick to your Breeze Face. Then you will be consistent. Then people will know what to expect from you. Even if your natural calibration is one of an unpinned setting on the reality-perception scale, sliding errantly left to right. It takes all kinds to make the world, and you are one step ahead if you know what kind you are.
About the Author:
Ape Biggles has written one self-published novel and multiple short stories rejected for publication. He has written over 2,000 Waths, a poem form of his own invention. Breeze Face explores the circumstances surrounding an epiphany he had when he was twelve and its significance to the life he’s had. www.apebiggles.com